Author: Jonathan Wilkins, marketing manager, European Automation Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past – one of the longest novels ever written – has just over 3,000 pages. Its impressive size has always made it a challenge even for the most avid readers. With this in mind, imagine the size and complexity of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was published in three parts, each spread over 1,500 pages. In October 2013, the IPCC published the summary of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The lengthy piece of research concluded it is “extremely likely” – 95 per cent certain, to be precise – that human influence has been the main cause of climate change over the last fifty years. The report also found that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. The IPCC is an objective international body that does not have a political agenda and the purpose of its reports is to provide scientifically robust information, which can then guide decision-makers. The first part of the IPCC climate change report, which has already been published, looked at the science behind climate change. According to Thomas Stocker, one of the co-chairs of the IPCC’s Working Group I, “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” The second part of the AR5 report, scheduled to be issued before the end of this year, will assess the impacts of climate change on the ecological system, socio-economic sectors and human health. Finally, the third and final part of the IPCC report will assess plausible options for mitigating climate change by limiting and preventing greenhouse-gas emissions. The stark messages of the AR5 report are enough to make even sceptics conclude that attitudes and actions need to change to avoid causing irreversible damage to the planet. However, this is not the first report of its kind. Disappointingly, the previous four have not had a significant impact on policy makers, governments or international bodies, which have a real influence on environmental regulations on a global level.

Climate changes – attitudes stay the same

Despite the solid evidence of previous IPCC reports, their impact has been minimal and the overall attitude towards climate change has hardly – if at all – evolved. Unfortunately, national and international policy makers have failed to convey further the sense of urgency that the IPCC’s AR4 and AR5 so clearly demand. Looking back at the last decade or so, lobbying activity increased and new climate policies were adopted after the 2006 Stern report and the 2007 IPCC report. However, their scope and impact has been minimal and the rate of new policies has slowed down significantly in recent years. The painful truth is that for attitudes to change, the drivers for business and industry need to be much more powerful than the ones already in place. Moreover, new climate-friendly policies and regulations need to be adopted on an international level. Otherwise they not only have limited impact, but create unfair competition. Greater control of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions needs to be put in place worldwide. In the urgent race against climate change, governments need to set the same standards for every country and region. We can and should play an essential role in encouraging other global leaders to identify and implement a common strategy to address climate change as soon as possible. Among other things, the IPCC’s AR5 report highlights the importance of finding new and better ways to increase energy efficiency. While carbon reduction is clearly a pressing need, energy-saving technology should also play an essential part in making global industry more sustainable and eco-friendly. In the UK, a recent industry scheme was the Carbon Reducing Commitment (CRC), adopted in 2010 and amended several times since. The CRC is a mandatory scheme aimed at improving energy efficiency and cutting emissions in large public- and private-sector organisations, which are responsible for 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The aim of the CRC initiative is certainly admirable, yet its current form lacks coherence and could benefit from additional measures. The UK Government initially committed to cutting national carbon emission levels by 60 per cent before 2050, compared to the same levels in the 1990s. In October 2008, this target increased to 80 per cent. Sadly, the CRC scheme has often been criticised as being too complicated, bureaucratic and costly.

Automation – the key to energy efficiency?

Tax breaks on energy saving and environmentally-friendly investments, for example, would represent much stronger drivers for industry, while making companies more sustainable in the long run. Britain’s manufacturing economy is currently using ageing equipment. Replacing this equipment with more energy-efficient alternatives is definitely a route worth encouraging. Interestingly, European Automation generates nearly a third of its revenue from new component sales, despite being known primarily as a provider of obsolete automation equipment. One has to balance the environmental impact of manufacturing and installing a new system against a repair using refurbished, reconditioned or legacy equipment. The ISO50001 standard for energy management systems aims to help companies continually reduce energy usage, and therefore their energy costs and carbon emissions. There are many simple ways in which businesses, regardless of the industry they operate in, can reduce energy consumption. Around 60 per cent of all energy consumed by the UK Plc is used for various types of motors. Among these, electric motors consume a significant amount of energy, not only in industrial applications, but also in office ventilation or heating systems. By using a variable speed drive, which allows accurate control and optimisation of the application, energy consumption can be reduced by 30 per cent. Other forms of intelligent control in automation can also be used to minimise the amount of energy used across industries. For example, installing a sensor that allows a piece of equipment to be switched off or turned down in response to its environment is a simple and affordable option for businesses and always results in significant energy savings.

The time to act is now

The IPCC report has shown without a doubt that climate change is a stringent problem that governments, industries and individual companies can no longer afford to postpone addressing. The lengthy and complex AR5 report should spur policy makers into action and encourage them to compile and implement an international strategy for reducing the levels of greenhouse gases and increasing energy efficiency across industries. The underlying message of the most recent IPCC report is very straight-forward. We have the science behind climate change, we understand the risks and the potential consequences of it. As opposed to Marcel Proust’s interminable novel, which has few implications outside the literary world, the 5000 or so pages of the AR5 report should become the basis of new international policies, rather than ridiculously costly scrap paper, or just another report that nobody has ever read entirely. At this point in human history, we still have a choice to make about what our impact on the planet will be. But unless this choice is a global, coherent and rigorous one, it will not be strong enough to have positive consequences on the environment – something on which the report is very clear.